Sculptures Reign Supreme

18/02/2019     Modern & Contemporary British Art, News Stories & Press Release

LONDON: A canvas by Craigie Aitchison (1926-2009) - the renowned Scottish artist known for his simple style and bold, childlike colours - was a star performer in a sale of Modern and Contemporary art at Roseberys London, February 12, 2019. 

The trademark Aitchison crucifixion scene, dating to the early 1970s, sold towards its upper estimate for £18,000 (lot 208).

sir oswald hornby Craigie AitchisonLeon Underwood Geoffrey Clarke


The work demonstrates the artist’s unusual technique of painting in thin glazes of oil, which almost sink into the canvas, pushing the paint across the surface with small brushes.

Aitchison’s fascination with the crucifixion subject started when he was studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. While copying a crucifixion by the French painter Rouault, William Townsend - a tutor Aitchison disliked - remarked that it was ‘too serious a subject’ for him to attempt. This comment provoked the artist and likely triggered his compulsion to paint the crucifixion over and over; it would become one of his favourite and most popular subjects.

Although not religious himself (“it is the art that is religious, not me” he once said), Aitchison had always been drawn to the ‘bells and smells’ of Catholic churches, and a trip to Italy provided a lasting influence on his painting.

Another keenly contested work was a fine mid-century portrait by Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley (1880-1952) - a favourite of the Royal Family who also painted Sir Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi (lot 22).

Stephan Cox Gary Stinton Victor Willing British Contemporary Artist


Typical of the artist’s style of portraiture, the 1949 oil depicts the half-length portrait of Doreen Leigh-Pemberton, the wife of John Loftus Leigh-Pemberton (1911-97), an artist and illustrator best known for his book illustrations for Ladybird’s children series.

It was secured over the £800-1,200 estimate for £3,400 – nearly five times more than it had made at an auction in Essex in 2016.

A poignant drawing of a homeless man by the Modernist sculptor Leon Underwood (1890-1975) sold for six times its estimate at £1800 (lot 50).

Dated 1922, the pen, ink and pencil wash drawing had passed by descent from the artist’s estate and had an old exhibition label for the venerable London dealership Thomas Agnews & Sons.

Described as the precursor of modern sculpture in Britain’, Underwood is best known for his 3D creations cast in bronze, marble carvings, stone and wood.

Pioneering Mod Brit sculptor Geoffrey Clarke (1924-2014) was well represented with six aluminium creations in the abstract (lot 87-92). These diminutive works were in keeping with the current demand for mid-century abstract art and duly sold for a combined total of £8,380.

Hartest Cross, a unique c. 1964/65 aluminium maquette for an ambitious design for Clarke’s village church in Hartest, Suffolk, was the group’s top seller at £3800. The full-size version of the cross was never realised.

Five black Indian granite heads by Stephen Cox (b.1946) made £3600 against a £1500-2000 guide (lot 243). The set perfectly represent Cox’s style, but on a smaller and more intimate scale than his monolithic outdoor sculptures for which he is best known.

Made in c.1985, each hand-coloured piece symbolises the five elements connected to the senses; hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell.

One of the biggest and surprising bidding battles in the contemporary art section emerged for a portrait of a cheetah by Gary Stinton (b.1961) (lot 163), an artist whose bold and impressive works of big cats rarely appear on the secondary market. The pastel on paper drew an intense bidding from two keen parties before it was eventually knocked down for £5200 – nearly nine times the estimate.

Mask, a signed 1984 crayon and pencil on paper work by Victor Willing (1928-1988), doubled its guide to sell for £1,000 (lot 133). It had a label for The Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

Dubbed the 'spokesman for his generation', Willing was a friend and colleague of many notable artists, including Elisabeth Frink, Michael Andrews and Francis Bacon. His wife, the Portuguese feminist painter Paula Rego, was the subject of a major retrospective in Paris recently.

Also doubling its guide was a ‘punk’ work by Jo Brocklehurst (1935-2006), which sold for £1600 (lot 236) – among the highest prices achieved for her work at auction to date. Too Fast to Live/Man Made Power Man Made Pain (Seated Punk with Cigarette) is a signed watercolour, gouache and pastel on paper.

Brocklehurst chronicled punk counterculture in London, New York and Berlin from the 1970s to the ‘90s. Her graphic work documents these subcultures and provides a unique and intimate perspective on their practitioners.

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